My setup: Windows XP Tablet Edition

Dan Benjamin of “Hivelogic”: recently wrote about “his software setup”: Even though he uses a Mac and none of the software he mentioned would be of any use to me, I was intrigued by the idea and inspired to write a similar post of my own. Actually, I’ve been working on this post for a while but I’ve decided to break it down into pieces so it looks like I actually do something around here. :)

Before I start to talk about individual programs, I’d like to say a little about my computer. For the past couple of months I’ve been using a company-issued “HP Compaq tc4200 Tablet PC“: I was a bit skeptical at first about the whole tablet thing, but I must say it adds another layer of freedom to personal computing. I always have the option to flip the lid up and use it like a normal laptop, but it’s quite useful being able to take notes and refer to my documents or the web while I’m up walking around.

For the record, I’m a wanna-be Ubuntu user. I hope to have my system dual-booting sometime soon, but have tried several times unsuccessfully. I’ve been having a heck of a time figuring out how to partition the drive. Most partitioning software boots from a CD, but since my tablet doesn’t have a CDROM, it makes things difficult. I’ve tried both an external CDROM and one that’s built into my HP advanced docking station, but many of the Linux live CDs I’ve tried (Knoppix, Kanotix, etc.) won’t boot. I was finally able to get an Ubuntu live CD to boot, but the built-in partitioning software, GParted, which is supposed to have support for NTFS, refuses to touch my drive even after several defrags. I think I’m going to have to purchase or borrow a copy of Partition Magic.

Anyway, one thing that makes the tablet great is the ability to write directly on the screen. The built-in system for writing is called the Tablet Input Panel, and there are two ways to use it. The first is to tap a button that permanently resides on the start bar. The button brings up the TIP across the bottom of the screen. My tablet also has a dedicated hardware button that brings up the TIP, so one of the first things I did was research a way to keep that pesky button from taking up my task bar real-estate. Having the TIP at the bottom of the screen is a little silly, in my opinion, because there’s no place to rest your hand to write. Try writing something near the bottom of a clipboard to see what I mean.

The other way to use the TIP is with a little button that pops up whenever you’ve just tapped a place where text can be entered. At first thought, a button that appears out of nowhere may sound annoying, but if you don’t need to use it the button dissappears after a few seconds. If you tap the button, the TIP pops up just below where you’re entering the text. This is called the Floating TIP, and this is the TIP I prefer to use. One problem with the Floating TIP, however, is that some applications don’t support it. If a program doesn’t use the standard textarea/text box widgets, the Floating TIP will simply not recognize them as places where text can be entered, and the little floating button just won’t appear. In that case, you either forced to use the normal TIP or flip the screen back around so you can use the keyboard.

Unfortunately, Mozilla Firefox, uses XUL for all of its widgets, and isn’t natively supported by the Floating TIP. However, there’s a great Firefox extension, GeckoTIP, that provides full Floating TIP support in Firefox.

Stay tuned for the rest of this series on my software setup. I’ll definitely mention more of my favorite Firefox extensions and may even include some selections from my Palm OS software collection.

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